The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday it will start a campaign to try to fix American entitlement programs, saying Social Security, Medicare and other programs are growing so quickly they will eventually crowd out other spending on infrastructure, defense and education.
R. Bruce Josten, the chamber's chief lobbyist, said it will use its national network of members to sound the alarm and dispel myths about the future costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- the three big drivers of long-term deficits.
"Denial is deadly here," Mr. Josten said.
He said the chamber will talk about the challenge but won't offer specific solutions because, until Americans acknowledge the problem, the chambers think any suggestions will be shot down.
Mr. Josten said spending on the trio of programs already costs $1.6 trillion per year, and that price tag is projected to soar in 10 years to $3 trillion.
He also rebutted claims by politicians and grandparents alike that the programs are "self-funding" and beneficiaries are reaping the same amount they paid into the program.
"Most Americans are not prepared to accept that reality," he said.
A top labor union hit back, arguing the problem with the budget isn't entitlements but rather too little money being collected in taxes.
"The chamber says they want to have this debate out in the open," said Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff for the AFL-CIO. "We say bring it on. We don't believe that the American people really want to cut benefits for Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare in exchange for lowering the top tax rate for the richest Americans."
Elected leaders have pointed to entitlement reform as an integral part of talks to reduce the deficit, but have been unable to forge a path forward. The subject is viewed as politically dangerous for many politicians, who fear backlash from seniors or other voter blocs that could punish them for cutting or altering benefits.
Mr. Josten said President Obama showed some promise by suggesting switching to the chained consumer price index, an alternative formula to calculate cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other programs. But Mr. Josten had even deeper praise for broad reforms offered by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and the GOP's most recent vice presidential candidate.
The most recent report from the Social Security and Medicare trustees showed Medicare will be solvent until 2026. But one of Social Security's two trust funds will go bust in three years.
And the program as a whole ran a cash-flow deficit of $55 billion last year, meaning it is already dipping into the trust fund and interest accrued -- at least on paper -- for previous surpluses.
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